THE 55th CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2002): A DIARY
by Edwin Jahiel
For starters, a friendly tip. The name "Cannes" is pronounced "kahn" by the French and by most other nationalities, with the major exception of Americans who say "can" or "cans." Of course, in defense of my well-meaning compatriots, I could mention how the French pronounce American names. Long ago in Paris, during a discussion of World War II, I was nonplussed by references to a mysterious "Eh-zen-o-VAIR" He was General Eisenhower. And so it goes
The Cannes Festival is like the Olympics of cinema, second only to them in media coverage, and well ahead of soccer's World Cup or, in Europe, the Tour de France. There's a difference, though. The athletic events beget vociferous and kinetic enthusiasm in the spectators, including the television audiences. They also affect national pride. The Cannes Festival does not produce wild reactions. Everyone stays cool.
There's also a big difference between Cannes--as well as other majorl film Festivals--and the Oscars. The Oscars pump up the sales of movie tickets. The winning films at Cannes will indeed get many customers in France and elsewhere, but that's a modest increase when compared to the income generated by Oscar-winning films or even just the nominated titles. One major key to this is the U.S.A. with its potentially huge market, which, all things being equal, feeds overwhelmingly on American flicks. We show less interest in movies from abroad than Bulgaria, Kenya, Zanzibar or Latin America do, not to mention cinephilic Canada.
Is this a symptom of mistrusting subtitles? Of provincialism? Of an odd form of isolationism? I'll stop here with a reference to something that happened in my town many years back. The local paper had an ad for a foreign movie that had been a top winner at Cannes. But nowhere did it mention that prize. I called the theater's manager to point this out. I could visualize him/her (I'm being discreet) shrugging his/her shoulders. I wondered if s/he had ever heard of Cannes. Finally, that person was persuaded to add, reluctantly, belatedly, and in small letters, a mention of the major award.
Sadder yet is the fact that even when the publicity for such movies does include the prizes, and in large fonts, this does not necessarily make the masses run to the theater.
Cannes is a beautiful city on the lovely French Riviera. It is favored by retirees, but also by technologies which, in recent decades, have helped to increase the area's population to perhaps 80,000. A nice size. The splendidly located city is worth visiting, but do choose your dates. In the summer it becomes a very popular resort, especially in August during the exodus of the French from North to South and/or from wherever they live to some other region. (France has much longer paid vacations than the U.S.A.)
At Fest time the population doubles, traffic multiplies by 100 if not more, slows way down but is orderly. By now, cell-phone holders are more common than people wearing glasses. Cars and humans are mostly concentrated between the Croisette -- the palm-tree adorned and flower-displaying boulevard by the sea, with its luxury hotels and shops--and the famous Antibes Street, the heart of the shopping district. The main, huge film venue is the Palais (Palace) of Festivals.
The dangers of spontaneity: advice to grownups. Don't suddenly appear in Cannes if you have not already made arrangements. Before leaving each Festival, 99% of the regulars make reservations for the next year's affair.
Prices. Practically all hotels, from the chic and pricey to the most modest, jack up their rates significantly for the Festival.
DAYS O AND 1
The trip : Unhappy campers
Flying Down to Rio -oops! to Nice. Our trio of friends flew economy class from Chicago to a European city which shall remain nameless. Indubitably, it would be churlish and disrespectful to centuries-old victims if one would say the economy class nowadays faintly brings to mind a mild version of the Spanish Inquisition. Comparing it to the 19th and early 20th century migrations, in steerage, of Europeans coming to the New World would also be indecent and hyperbolic. Mentioning the slave traffic from Africa would be obscene, callow, shallow and grossly insensitive. All that's left is to say, soberly, that by and large (or rather by and narrow,) by most 20th century standards of post-World War II air travel, to fly economy class in 2002 is to experience a nasty kind of paid-up torture.
In our case, the inedible food and the indifferent, "I don't give a damn" attitude of the personnel added insult to injury. How many frequent flyers end up with spinal surgery and coccyx replacement, I do not know.
Air travel in steerage (oops! There I go again! I'll change this to "cattle class") is worsening fast and palpably, what with airline crises which may look for alibis in the fears of terrorism, but that's a red herring. Travel quality has been declining steadily since well before 9-11. Does the explanation lie in callousness, mismanagement, outright malfeasance that daily produces more headlines about financial scandals that enrich the fat cats? I think the key word is unrestrained, uncontrolled greed.
Perhaps all CEOs should be shown the classic movie "Greed" (1925) by Eric von Stroheim, in its over-4 hours restored version. Or at least made to read the source novel "McTeague" by Frank Norris. Then be made to kneel down, intone "mea culpa," divest themselves of their fortunes and give them to the unwealthy.
In 312 A.D. Emperor Constantine was about to do battle with Maxentius, when a Christian cross appeared in the sky with the words "in hoc signo vinces" ("with this sign, you will win.") He did. Perhaps today's business world should have those words as a symbol, with a dollar or euro sign replacing the cross.
The trip : continued
What is related above was the first leg of the trip. When it was over, after a miserably hot, disorganized search for the next flight, we boarded a smaller jet for Nice. Curiously, that far shorter lap was acceptable in terms of comfort, service and food.
Captain, land ahoy!
In Nice, in a travel situation as certain as death and taxes, one of our trio's suitcases was missing. Later that day, it was delivered to its owner in Cannes, our final destination.
The proud Nicois claim that their recently expanded airport is now second in traffic to Paris's. Film Festival SUVs transport accredited members of the Press from Nice to Cannes. We appreciate this, but the process for getting such a car was and still is a mess, compounded by having to communicate with personnel by sign language through panels of soundproof glass. I'm not making this up.
Our driver told us that he makes good money by being one of the chauffeurs hired by Saudi potentates during their annual stays in Cannes--not at Fest time. He is well treated, and always assigned to a very nice Princess. The visitors come in family groups, with lots (and loads) of stuff shipped by sea. ("Shipped" is not tautological since one may ship by air or land.) They rent an entire floor of the legendary, chic, palatial Hotel Carlton. This comes to 300,000 dollars, for a month I believe -- but we, the SUV's American passengers, were too stunned to retain all the facts and figures.
Once in Cannes, there was splendid news. The once-abominable, exhausting, turtle-slow, sweaty process of getting official badges and necessary documents has steadily improved under the latest Press Director, Ms. Christine Aimé. This year it made a giant leap forward in ease and speed.
Hundreds of films, if not more, are shown at Cannes if you take into account those in the Festival proper with its many screening facilities, the movies that play in local multiplexes enlisted for current or past titles, the video, DVD et al. projections, and so on.
However, in the main Festival only films released in the previous 12 months are considered by Official Selections (OS.) Among those, two dozen features are in the Official Competition (OC) and get by far the greatest media coverage. There is also a dozen of competing shorts. Official but Not Competing are five more features (NC). Ditto for seven features labeled Special Screenings (also NC). For newbies --even for repeaters-- the Festival's number of sections can be bewildering. The large group (two dozen features) called Un Certain Regard (A Certain Look) (abbreviated as UCR) is a most interesting catch- all, but not easy to explain.
To elucidate. While the UCR movies are indeed Official Selections, they do not compete. Some of them might have been OC runners-up, several can be just as good as anything in the Official Competition, or even better, depending on your taste. All hopes for prizes are not lost however. Juries other than those strictly affiliated with the Festival can reward films from any kind of group, whether classified as OC or as NC. There is also the very prestigious Camera d'Or (The Golden Camera) Award, now in its 25th year. It goes to the Best First Film shown in the Official Selection, The Directors' Fortnight series and the Critics' Week. Its jury of five is made up of past Presidents and past winners of the Camera d'Or.
( I've done my level best while rewriting the above paragraphs a dozen times, but I am still not sure that my readers have a really clear understanding of this maze.)
I will add that the huge MIF (International Film Market) has tons of films, projected from celluloid or on tape or DVD. These are shown in much smaller places, some as small as the home theaters of the rich. You find them within the Palais proper and in a rather new Market building behind the Palace. No MIF film is ever selected by the Festival or its tributaries. To the best of my knowledge, just about any outfit that owns or distributes or promotes movies --say, the association of Ruritanian films -- pays fees, rents a projection facility of the Festival and/or a local movie-house, hires projectionists, takes ads in papers and magazines, and voila! is in the business of looking for buyers and the like.
The films come from a great many countries. Asian pictures have been increasing remarkably fast in recent years. In 2002 there is also a fairly strong presence of Palestinian movies. Co-productions of all types are now so common that I suspect there are more of them than single-studio or single-country movies. I hear that a huge delegation from India will attend the festival. There will be a small retrospective of films by a late Indian producer, director, actor Raj Kapoor. But will there be time to see some of those pictures?
The choosers and the chosen.
As soon as one Festival is over there begins the long process of finding movies for the following year. It can last until almost the last minute before the new Festival gets going. Whether submitted for consideration or chosen directly, dozens, even hundreds of films are previewed.
The detailed procedure is something of a mystery, but it is safe to say that it involves several selection committees and certain trusted individuals. The deciding voices are those of the Board of Directors, notably the Artistic Delegate's (a.k.a. Director or General Delegate.) The latter is currently Thierry Fremaux, who replaced Gilles Jacob in 2001. Mr. Jacob had held that august position since 1978. A force and an influence to reckon with, when he stepped down he became the Festival's President. At times this title may have been more honorary than anything else, but in Mr. Jacob's case I am certain that it still carries a great deal of weight.
Included at Cannes are several of older films, some in restored prints as homages to the following directors: Billy Wilder, Alain Resnais, Jacques Tati (several films), Paul Morrissey (three films), the aforementioned Raj Kapoor (three films.) Also to be shown are nine restored prints from several countries.
They come in all shapes and colors. The main Jury (features only in the Official Competition) is THE jury. It is organized well in advance. Its 2002 membership is: David Lynch, director, U.S.A as the Jury's President. Michelle Yeoh, actress, Hong Kong. Sharon Stone, actress, U.S. Raoul Ruiz, director, France/Chili. Christine Hakim, actress/producer, Indonesia. Bille August, director, Denmark. Claude Miller, director, France. Walter Salles, director, Brazil. Regis Wargnier, director, France. Another Official jury judges the shorts. The Camera d'Or (Golden Camera) judges first features. And so on. Some juries outside the Official Festival's jurisdiction can judge new items in practically any series, from the Official to independent ones, e.g The Directors' Fortnight, The Critics' Week, etc. The major such jury is that of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. More limited juries include that of the Critics' Week that judges its own series, the Ecumenical Jury, and others. The Projections.
These can be a maze for freshman attendees. I will simplify it, I hope. The most important screenings for the working reporters are the separate press-screenings in more than one venue. Depending on the type of your special press pass, access to the non-press projections in the main auditorium, the Salle Lumiere, may (sometimes) be possible but in general is denied. The showings at the Lumiere, especially the gala, formal dress ones, are mostly the privilege of celebrities, visiting filmmakers, stars, officials, notables, people who have "pull," and such.
This Festival's Official opener, traditionally a film not in competition, is Woody Allen's HOLLYWOOD ENDING. There was neither pre-buzz nor post-buzz about it, but Allen's press conference was a hit. He sat at a long table, flanked by his producers and his players. He spoke modestly, clearly, intelligently and calmly -- without any of the tics, hesitations or stuttering of Woody-as-performer. His actors oohed , aahed, and said nothing memorable.
[During the Fest, much-photographed Woody was invariably shown being kissed and hugged by the ladies. Invariably, he looked uncomfortable, with the "I wish I were somewhere else" expression of Woody-the-actor. Funny pictures.]
KEDMA (OC) by Israeli-international Amos Gitai, takes its name from a refugee ship. I am told that it means "toward the east." In May 1948 Kedma is loaded to the gills with pathetic Holocaust survivors sailing to then-Palestine. The long opening shot is one of the best and most moving I have ever seen. The camera starts out with unidentifiable bodies, continues with a couple's somber, desperate love-making, follows the man as he traverses the hold, then the deck, both chockfull of humanity. I kept thinking of Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
This "Exodus"-like cargo is put ashore, fired upon by British forces, immediately enrolled in the Palmach (the Jewish secret army.) It trades deadly fire with Palestinian Arabs dispossessed by the Jews. This, just days away from the transition of Palestine from a British protectorate to a new Jewish State.
Told elliptically and without explanations that would orient the public-at-large, the film is a no-holds-barred entity which clearly prophesizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts to come. It sees both sides' point of view with objectivity, cool sympathy, pathos but no movie-movie theatrics. Gitai upsets the rules and regulations of standard film expositions --what we might call "Filming 101 or 102." This process results in a form of Brechtian alienation-distanciation which could annoy the masses of spectators. I found it intelligent and profoundly touching, but I foresee no major international exposure.
Satirist-reformer-populist Michael Moore's BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (OC) is the first documentary feature ever selected for competition at Cannes. It is an exploration and, of course, indictment of the gun and violence culture in the U.S.A. Moore's first film, the triumphant "Roger & Me," created a most original genre and set the tone for his subsequent work, notably "The Big One": scathing, original, blackly humorous denunciations, with Moore as Moore playing a false naïf in 90 minute movies. In itself, "Bowling" cannot be called totally original since it follows the tried and true methods and devices of previous Moores. Even so, there's a lot more variety in this "oeuvre" than in the James Bond and the Indiana Jones series.
Of course, I am comparing apples and oranges. "Bowling" works well albeit with no real surprises and a longish running time of 120 minutes. No analysis needed here. This work will undoubtedly be on U.S. screens as soon as the mentally retarded summer movies finish their money-making tour. In my case, Moore was preaching to a convert, but it did convince me to lose weight, buy elegant clothes and never wear a baseball cap.
The critical reception is very good. I suspect that beyond the intrinsic quality of the work, anything interpreted as critical of the U.S.A. gets bonus points. Not for all, but for too many persons, even relatively sophisticated ones, America remains a whipping boy. Has the ungrateful world forgotten the Yank contribution to World War I, and the Yank liberators of World War II?
The Days of the Locusts
.a.k.a. cellphones. These, called "portables," keep growing exponentially in numbers and usage, notwithstanding call rates higher than in the U.S. It would seem that the term "the frugal French" no longer applies.
No doubt the Europeans have been inspired by America in the steady flow of Anglo-Saxon adoptions (and adaptations) of all types, from the vocabulary to fast foods to you-name-it. There is a contradiction here in that many purists object to the rich French language's importing terms (mostly technical) from the U.S.A. But all this chicanery is a tempest in the tea-pot of globalization, especially when you consider that the English language keeps up a steady adoption of French words, and that the French language is in no way menaced by its anglicisms.
STAR WARS: EPISODE II - Attack of the Clones (NC) Skipped it. Among the critics it created no stir except for the clarity of its digital process. MARIE-JO AND HER TWO LOVES (France) (OC) Made by the endearing Robert Guediguian who was born in Marseille (France) to an Armenian father and a German mother. He grew up and still lives in Marseille, a city he loves. Nowadays he also has a second home in Paris, for professional reasons.
Since 1980 he has made eleven movies, all about working class people in the Marseille area. He is, so far as I am concerned, today's filmmaker-laureate of that region, in some ways a successor to novelist-filmmaker Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974,) many of whose works were set in Provence. Guediguian's films are warm, naturalistic, intimate, proletarian and gently leftist. He makes them with a team, a repertory group of friends and companions. Invariably, his Marseille-born wife, actress Ariane Ascaride has the lead role and is first-listed in the credits. He has a dedicated following (including me) but in the U.S.A. just one of his films is somewhat known, the prize-winning, working-class love story "Marius and Jeannette" (1997.)
In "Marie-Jo" Ms. Ascaride is perfect as an exemplary wife and mother. But she is in love, and makes love with both her husband and one of the couple's best friends. No, not at the same time. This is neither a "menage a trois" nor a group sex flick, nor a titillating item. But it is an original, gripping development of a "can this work?" situation. Do keep your fingers crossed --but not too optimistically--for this very well-received, unusual picture to reach some American art movie-houses.
In general Cannes gets going slowly, with the caliber of films creeping upward as days go by. However, this 55th Festival gets off to a running start.
Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio (whose name means beautiful -or sharp eye) created a stir 1965 with his first film "Pugni in tasca" ("Fists in the Pocket.") Now there is a stir around THE HOUR OF RELIGION : MY MOTHER'S SMILE (OC). It is great.
Successful painter and illustrator Ernesto (Sergio Castellito) is separated from his wife but not divorced, After all, we are still in Catholic Italy. He dotes on their young son. One day a Vatican envoy visits him with the news that Ernesto's mother is in the process of being canonized. The artist's stunned reaction is something to behold.
He did not like the woman, and is an atheist to boot. He knows that the lady was a dumb nonentity, both as a person and as a Catholic. Adding to the weird state of things is the fact that it was one of his brothers, a deranged man, who had stabbed Mamma to death.
Ernesto's view of, and distaste for, what is happening is not shared by the other relatives. They are a bunch of opportunists who, it turns out, have been working behind the scene for years toward this canonization. For them, the Vatican's decision is a godsend in every respect, a guarantee of prestige which will elevate the tribe to social heights. It will also be very good for business.
The movie is a weird, amazing maze of ironies, a complex mix of realism, naturalism, fantasy, surrealism, in plot as well as visuals. Actor Castellito is superbly sardonic. Superior, too are the supporting performances. All this, packed into 103 minutes, makes the body of the film impossible to summarize, perhaps even hard to understand fully without repeated screenings. Even so, a single viewing is most impressive. The Cannes critics' immediate reaction is very positive. The movie's release coincides with the new visibility of the Catholic Church's problems. Even without the current troubles, the film is a touchy job. I bet that it will get many detractors as well as minimal distribution.
Missing persons (to be)
My good friend, the film critic and protean cine-person Jean-Loup Passek is once again the director of the Camera d'Or office. For many years he was in charge of the cinema programs at the famous Pompidou Center in Paris. There, he organized an amazing number of events, including a huge number of major film retrospectives from countries all over the world. They series dealt with well-known to little known to hardly known national cinemas. They included hard-to-find or never-seen movies, homages to specific filmmakers -- you name it. With the movies came beautifully illustrated, rich-in-information catalogues of collectors' items caliber.
Jean-Loup was also in charge of the film books published by the world-famous Larousse Editions. Among them is the monumental Dictionary of Cinema, in effect a huge Encyclopedia, with Mr. Passek as the editor-in-chief. It first came put in the mid-1980s, with a second, new edition in 1991. Those are large, heavy, luxurious hard-cover volumes, veritable Bibles of cinema. There followed another edition as a set of two hefty paperbacks, portable and, for what they are, truly inexpensive. The fact that, to my knowledge there is no English-language version of those splendid, indispensable volumes (hugely labor-intensive though the translations would be) is a sin, an enormous lacuna for non-readers of French, whether amateur or professional cinephiles, teachers and students the world over.
I am waiting to receive the "Dizionario del cinema americano" by the famous French critic-historian Michel Ciment and Jean-Loup Passek.
In 1973, Jean-Loup created the Film Festival of La Rochelle, that beautiful, historic city on the Atlantic. He has been its Director and organizer ever since. A Festival of the old and the new, with retrospectives, rare movies, introductions to people and films of value but often unknown, even to specialists, outside their land of origin, this is an affair that is non-competitive, untainted by commercialism, by producers or visiting business-people. It is replete with creative guests, scholars, historians, actors and of course directors and writers from every corner of this planet. It is one good surprise after another, a series of discoveries of films and people.
Passes or tickets are inexpensive. Projections begin in late morning. at a civilized hour. Informality reigns. The ambience is the most "decontractée" (relaxed) and democratic imaginable. It is a superb mixture of viewers, participants, celebrities and others. It includes daily, friendly, gatherings led by Mr. Passek.. Not in the wildest dreams of Cannes-goers could John or Mary Doe sit in a cafe or a restaurant with, for instance, a famous director, and over a drink (or most affordable gourmet food) engage into casual, natural talk.
Some of the above conditions do exist in non-gigantic festivals, but none as much and as well as at La Rochelle. To put it simply, for years this has been by very far my favorite festival. And many others share my opinion.
Why do I call this section "Missing Persons (to be)"? Because Jean-Loup is retiring from the La Rochelle Festival. He is in excellent shape, bouncy, energetic, youthful as ever. There was no time at Cannes to get into details for his decision. Maybe it was like the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country, in this case, to the aid of himself after so many splendid but grueling years.
His staff and collaborators have been of superb quality. They will continue with La Rochelle. But again, I have no extra information. I wish them all the best while I am sorrowing for Jean-Loup's absence.
BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS (China/France) (UCR) was made by Dai Sijie from his own very successful novel. He had studied Art History in Sichuan (China) and later cinema in Paris. He has been living in France for the last fifteen years.
During the bad days of Mao and his Cultural Revolution, two buddies whose parents were educated professionals, a.k.a "intellectuals" (hence "enemies of the people") are sent to distant, mountainous boondocks for "reeducation." One of the boys brings a cookbook (sic!) which is thrown into the fire by the dumb, suspicious village boss who cannot even read. The other young man brings a violin, which is also a candidate for the pyre until its owner plays Mozart and declares that the music is an homage to Chairman Mao. Then both fellows fall in love with a pretty young seamstress. They educate her by reading some forbidden (and concealed) European literature, including Balzac. I will not reveal what follows because notwithstanding certain gauche developments, this is an appealing, touching movie which may just make it to the U.S.A. Even though China has evolved since Mao, it is amazing to see so much anti-Maoism in a film, along with so much stupidity, ignorance, violence, primitivism, all results of isolation and repression.
String instruments seem to be carving a tidy, tiny niche in cinema, especially in movies set in the past: "Tous les Matins du Monde," "The Red Violin," "Captain Corelli's Mandolin," etc. These are vague descendants of earlier items such as "Golden Boy" or "Humoresque."
ALL OR NOTHING (U.K.) (OC) Writer-director Mike Leigh has carved a special film-niche for himself with very British movies that reveal extraordinary things about ordinary working class people: "High Hopes,"" Life Is Sweet,"" Naked,"" Secrets and Lies," et al. He (and his actors) have been awarded a host of major prizes. And that's not counting Leigh's activities in the theater and with TV films which also get theatrical releases. Leigh is full of surprises. His latest film, "Topsy-Turvy," was light-hearted masterpiece about Gilbert and Sullivan. Now he is back to the proles in a London estate, which is the British word for what's called public (low rent) housing in America and HLM (moderate rental dwelling) in France.
The place is dismal and grungy as are most of its inhabitants. The movie is set during an extended weekend. It centers on the gloomy and penurious lives of a supermarket cashier and her taxi-driver, common-law husband. They and all the other denizens are portrayed without mercy, yet at the same time with deep understanding and sympathy. Without even trying to spell it out, and in semi-documentary, realistic style, Mr. Leigh's strategy reminds one of that in naturalistic novels such as Zola's, minus the heredity theories. The working class people are mired down not through free will but as victims of a defective society-at-large. Yet nowhere is this openly stated or even suggested. A first-rate movie.
THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE (Portugal) (OC) by Manoel de Oliveira, by far the most famous filmmaker from his country, much respected there and abroad as a thinking person's director-scripter. He is not only the dean of Portuguese cineasts but surely also the universal dean of deans since he's going on 94. (A world record in film history?) There's nothing aged about his works. Here Oliveira presents us with the elaborate story of a mess.
Two adult men have been best friends since childhood. One is a rich fellow, the other the son of a family servant. Both are in love with the same girl. The wealthy fellow marries her and is unfaithful with the shady partner of the other man. Games of love, mind games, intellectual games and other complications develop in this longish, idiosyncratic movie which can get fatiguing in the hurly-burly of Cannes and should really be seen in tranquility and with patience.
In Portuguese too is the Brazilian CITY OF GOD (NC) by Fernando Meirelles. It takes its name from a 1960's housing project that becomes a "favella" a slum in which violence reigns. The film's (and source novel's) hero is tracked over many years. He resists a life of crime and eventually finds "salvation" and a purpose by becoming a photographer. A colorful film, rich in characters, action and episodes, it zig zags through time, is faithful to its true, autobiographical story (a very thick book), and --here comes the good news-- will be released in America by Miramax.
The American SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (NC) a Dreamworks animation, will be released in the States right after the Cannes Fest. So I skipped it. The critical consensus: it is nothing like last year's wonderful "Shrek", also by Dreamworks. It is a mustang but not a must. Jessica, my daughter and my indispensable editor and proofreader, is a specialist in anything equine (www.jessicajahiel.com and www.horse-sense.org) She tells me that "real horses don't have eyebrows."
In this celebration of film, until now I have noticed few major changes from recent years. One is a slow but sure growth of digital prints, accompanied by round-tables and discussions, with many outfits predicting or promising a brilliant future.
The other is a more sedate general mood, perhaps a by-product of 9-11. Its of most tangible aspect is that all who enter the Palais must undergo a handheld scanner search at the door, then have their bags inspected. The process is very rapid, polite and undemanding. It's nothing like an airport search.
[ Later, back in the States, I saw on a cable channel report which, like too many of that ilk, gives a false impression of the Festival via exaggerations, distortions, dumb trivia and gossip, interviews with irrelevant porn stars and such. That's a tabloid approach. In a TV clip I saw someone was griping about the "long, annoying, very rude" searches--see above-- that slowed her down considerably. Reality is the exact opposite.]
This year there will be no "Hot d'Or" competition by porno makers and merchants. These are in no way connected with the Fest. Good news. But bad for the "tabloidian" (sounds like a disease, right?) media.
TEN MINUTES OLDER (Germany/UK) (UCR) is an overall excellent collective work. Several directors are given the task of making a film, not to exceed 10 minutes, on the subject of time. The result is a buffet of mostly delicatessen. The people involved (until now, that is, since it is said that this will be a continuing project) are: Victor Erice, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Chen Kaige, Aki Kaurismaki, Wim Wender, and Spike Lee.
I cannot describe and/or rate the seven filmlets without seeing the whole again. (I hear that is coming soon to American cable TV.) But I must say that Spike Lee's segment "We Wuz Robbed," a political broadside at George W.Bush and the Florida elections, was a howl. Coming at the end of this anthology, Spike's spike was wildly applauded and caused enormous merriment in the audience.
French films are well represented at Cannes in numbers, but not in hits. DEMONLOVER (in one word) by critic-writer-director Olivier Assayas ( a smart fellow,) is about two companies competing over manga (Japanese animation) pornography. Its reception was negative so I missed it in favor of JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME ("I Love You, I Love You") (France, 1968) at a special screening of a new copy. This rare excursion by cineaste Alain Resnais into science-fiction was not a hit when it came out, but this time, the Cannes audience's applause was tremendous.
It played in the Salle Bunuel which was completed in 2001. The Bunuel theater is by very far the Festival's (and the city's) most comfortable, pleasant theater, the best-equipped, and the most popular--an exemplary auditorium.
"Time is of the essence" is something that haunts all genuine film critics at Cannes. You have to see all the movies that are in competition, and then some. ("Some" means "many others.")
You are grateful for items you already know; grateful for films which may not have a chance at prizes but will be playing soon in your city; grateful for reliable friends who already know certain films from before the Festival -- or saw them at Cannes the day before-- and who assure you they can be skipped.
My best French source is Jean-Louis Manceau, a top critic, specialist in Czech and Slovak cinema, and the organizer of cultural film programs in Le Mans, the city known world-wide for its automobile races.
When you are watching the first thirty minutes of a film, and decide it is not really good, with luck you may quit that show in time to catch another movie, one that has not yet started. You calculate your every move like a chess player.
That's how I managed to see, in a tiny projection room for Market films, LOST IN LA MANCHA. It was recommended by my friend Milos Stehlik who had watched it at the Berlin Festival. His taste is impeccable. That is, it coincides with my taste.
Milos is my secret weapon. A polymath in a host of areas, he knows more about cinema than most other specialists have forgotten. In Festival after Festival he has pointed out to me items I ought to see, and saved me precious time by steering me away from other titles.
He was right about "Lost," an documentary (89 minutes) narrated by Jeff Bridges, directed and scripted by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. Those two had previously made the well-received "The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys" (1996.)
"Lost" is about the filming, in Spain, of Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." In spite of the tenacity and talent of Gilliam and his people, major problems and escalating troubles built up to messes, then to disasters beyond human control. They forced the abandonment of the project after several weeks of shooting. How awful for Gilliam, his cast., his crew and his would-be audiences.. "Lost" is a wonderful, original and clever job, lively, funny, sad and instructive It is now my turn to recommend it highly. Surely it deserves the big screen. It will be on DVD, and, I hope also on commercials-free TV.
In addition to movies, Spring is Bustin' Out All Over. Meetings, conferences, exhibitions, demonstrations (led, perhaps by digital, DVD and other scientific developments.) At least, after a projection at the Debussy auditorium, in its large foyer it is possible to have a look at the drawings and paintings for one of his movies, by the great, late Akira Kurosawa.
Are there good restaurants in Cannes? What a question! Of course there are. This is France, God's country for cuisine. Excellent establishments may be found all over, even in tiny and/or isolated localities; along two-lane highways and country roads, and most everywhere else. Just check a reliable tourist guide, preferably the venerable, updated yearly Guide Michelin. The red one, that is.(The green Michelins may also help, but their focus is sights and sounds.)
Just a few good, cheerful addresses (among others) in Cannes: "Gaston-Gastounette ," rather high-class yet reasonably priced; "Aux Bons Enfants," modest-looking, truly inexpensive--but you must reserve in person (no phone calls accepted) and pay cash. Both are close to the Palais.
The top luxurious hotels are very expensive, as are their excellent in-house restaurants. A few steps from the Carlton and the Martinez, the "Felix" is a very good, not inexpensive, but affordable restaurant.. Deep-pocketed people, persons blessed with generous expense accounts, or simply visitors who can afford to splurge now and then, have several choices. Note that even pricey establishments, whether in Cannes or elsewhere in France, charge considerably less than their big-city "equivalents" in the U.S.A.
France, unlike ancient Gaul, is divided in two parts, Paris and "the provinces." A major pleasure of driving around the provinces, considerably greater than the attraction of many virgins waiting for you in Heaven, is the discovery of temples of gastronomy. It is made easy by excellent road signs and by the superb surfaces of roads, from small local ones, mid-size, four-lane highways, or big toll-roads.
In Provence, at merely 33 miles from Cannes (16 from Nice), after the last stretch on a winding, impressive mountain road, you reach the village of Levens. There, "Les Santons" restaurant has a personnel of just two, the friendly couple who own it. He cooks, she serves--both beautifully. The meals, delicious, inventive, copious and truly inexpensive, may be taken indoors or in a lovely small garden.
More distant (some 50 miles west of Cannes) is Castellane, a tiny, picturesque village. Six kilometers away, at what is merely a place on the road called La Garde, you find the Auberge du Teillon, a 9-room hotel which produces excellent as well as inexpensive cuisine within an attractive ambience. I could go on and on recommending first-rate, best-buy establishments. Do prices at Cannes proper go up during the Festival? In many , perhaps most, cases the answer is yes, but even so, the national talent for, and cult of , food, the variety of fresh and natural products, untainted-by-chemicals or additives, produce in all categories anywhere from good to gourmet dishes, sometimes even to-die-for items. They embellish the quality of life, even at inflated prices.
Could you get mediocre, even poor meals in France? Of course you can, but their ratio to fine food is lower than any other country I know. After all, cuisine is far more important there than football or basketball are in America. Still, a warning about Cannes. Be careful with the huge number of eateries that are so conveniently located just a few steps from the Palais. Packed with customers, and with tables overflowing onto the sidewalk, some of these places seem to cater mostly to an undemanding tourist clientele. And/or they tend to decline at Festival time.
Back to the movies
Abbas Kiarostami is a top Iranian filmmaker, adulated all over, notably in Europe. His movie TEN (or "10") (a France/Iran co-production) (OC) follows closely the spontaneity and simplicity of "ABC Africa" Kiarostami's Cannes 2001 documentary offering. Both works are shot with tiny digital cameras. Here we have a work in several sections, each about a real woman (there are five of them) in a car, talking about her life. The film is revealing, the technique original albeit claustrophobic. This is the sort of work that shows up in Festivals,yet gets better when watched in tranquility by unharried, unhurried, rested viewers. TO BE AND TO HAVE (France), by documentarist Nicolas Philibert, follows, in a real one-room village schoolhouse (yes, Virginia, there are such in France,) a real teacher (Georges Lopez,) and his thirteen real pupils (aged 4-10) learning all that the instructor can teach them. The filming covered a period of 7 or 8 months.
France has always been proud of its educational system. It gets another boost here. The school is up-to-date (it has computers among other facilities) and so is dedicated, 55 years old Professor Lopez. His is on a sacred mission. It is wonderful to watch the teacher and his pupils in class and out of class. Many moments touch, amuse or instruct, in different ways, the kids as well as the spectators. France has had a tradition of movies about children as they are. Hollywood's approach has been about children as they ought to be (by curious standards,) or as they are imagined or exaggerated (for entertainment purposes.) The late filmmaker Francois Truffaut, (1932-1984) was, among his many accomplishments, extraordinarily good at showing real children. He would have loved "To Be and to Have."
The title, probably baffling for the non-French, is clever, as it refers . to the two main, basic, irregular verbs at the core of French grammar.
The 2002 Festival is shaping up as one of the best.
CARLO GIULIANO, RAGAZZO (Italy) (NC) is by Francesca Comencini, the bearer of a famous name in Italian cinema. "Ragazzo" means "boy" or "young man." A touching documentary with much amateur or media footage, it deals with the July 2001 demonstrations/riots against the G8 meeting in Genoa. The upheaval, was covered in surprising detail by cameras. The film also focuses on many scenes with Carlo in them. He was killed by a stray (?) police bullet. Interwoven is a detailed, poignant interview with the young man's mother, plus other facts and images concerning Carlo. A disturbing documentary which evokes, among others, Kent State.
ARARAT (Canada) (NC) is the by Armenian-Canadian "wunderkind" Atom Egoyan who started making movies at 19 and has been a major name for many years with his original, idiosyncratic features. The main purpose and the kern of "Ararat" is to illustrate and explore the Armenian Holocaust by Turkey, in and around 1915. It mixes past and present, fiction and documentary, old footage, reconstructions, items about Armenian-heritage people (among them French singer-actor Charles Aznavour and American star Eric Bogosian,) a film within a film, personal stories, and much else. Several of those threads can be fascinating, but there are so many excursions and incursions that "Ararat" becomes a bit unwieldy, overblown, even lurid now and then. Still, this is a work that should be seen, and not just by persons of Armenian descent
The tabloid mentality (more)
At the salle Bunuel, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (NC) a bio-documentary on the famous and notorious, controversial Hollywood producer Robert Evans. "Discovered" by Norma Shearer at a Beverly Hills swimming pool, he was a minor, mediocre actor who later switched to producing "Chinatown," "Marathon Man," "Black Sunday," "Urban Cowboy," "Popeye," "Chinatown," "The Cotton Club," "The Two Jakes," and others.
(Note: in some of the Cannes publications, Evans is credited with producing "The Godfather," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Conformist," 'Love Story,"" Harold and Maude," but those attributions are wrong so far as I know.)
The projection was preceded by the appearance of a visibly aged and ailing Evans. He babbled on interminably. The film proper is an amusing attempt at elevating the status of self-aggrandizing Evans. Full of facts (whether true or not,) many of them interesting, entertaining or colorful, and much unfamiliar footage. The audience ate it up but this was nothing compared to Mr. Evans's own delight. The film is fun. You may like it as a "divertimento" but you have to be unsophisticated to like Mr.Evans's personality, then and now.
A first for Cannes is the presence of Palestinian movies. The writer, director, producer and main actor of DIVINE INTERVENTION ("Yadon ilaheyya") (France/Palestine) (OC) is Elia Suleiman, one of the most interesting people of the Festival. I had to dig hard for facts. Born in Nazareth (1960), he lived in New York (1981-1993) got Rockefeller grants and such, then moved to Jerusalem. While a devoted, politicized Palestinian, he had (and has) Jewish and Israeli friends and collaborators. He made "Chronicle of a Disappearance" (1996 Palestinian, Israeli,U.S., German co-production). He co-directed "War and Peace in Vesoul" (1997) (France/ Israel) with top Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai. His reportedly funny sci-fi "Cyber Palestine"(1999) was a success. In all respects Elia Suleiman comes through as a high I.Q., talented, original person, serious yet full of humor. Of all the Cannes people I'd like to know well, he is Number One.
There's no space to describe "Divine Intervention" which deals with Palestinian life in Nazareth, grows into Jewish-Arab relations, climaxes as magic. The Arabic title "A Chronicle of Love and Pain," suggests a great deal but is no clue to the combination of styles and especially content. The movie was shot in France, with its Palestinian locations so well, so minutely reproduced, that you'd never suspect it is not Israel/Palestine you're seeing. Humor envelops the entire picture, from slapstick to intellectual. Dialogue goes from economical to non-existent, with silent or near-silent comedy, or sound effects, or pantomime pathos in the style of Chaplin, Keaton,or Tati. But whenever people converse, the dialogue is also highly effective talk. An unusual, original, idiosyncratic gem? Yes. But will it play widely in the States?
At the opposite extreme we get the great American documentarist Frederick Wiseman and his made-in-France THE LAST LETTER (NC). It is a filmization of a novel's chapter that was first produced on the stage, as a one-hour long monologue.The speaker is also a great, French stage actress, Catherine Samie. As a Jewish doctor in an Ukrainian town invaded by the Nazis in 1941, she knows that she will be murdered along with all the other Jews. So she writes a letter to her son who is --at least temporarily-- safe elsewhere. She delves into her past, her family, her love for her son, the horrible present and much else.
The camera (black-and-white) stays on her all the time, sensitively handled by another great, the Greek George Arvanitis who shot all the films of Theodore Angelopoulos who is also Greek, and also great. (Arvanitis now makes his home in France.) This powerful, heartbreaking work is another major, and different, contribution to the Holocaust films.
A contribution to bad cinema is made by LA CHATTE A DEUX TETES (GLOWING EYES) by actor Jacques Nolot (France) (UCR) The French title means "The Cat has Two Heads." The French word for "cat" also has the meaning of the female sex organ. This is an "ugh!" flick, a sort of docu-drama about a porno movie-house in Paris during the projection of a "straight" film. Oddly, the clientele is one of gay or bisexual male regulars--some in drag-- and an occasional newcomer. The customers spend more time in quickie sex than in anything else, such as watching the screen. Call it avant-garde cinema if you wish, but this is a dismally dull work.
Star-gazing. (Most of this refers to the daily gala, formal dress projections.)
The most-printed-in-the press or telecast images give distorted pictures of the Festival. The paparazzi adorned with garlands of still cameras, the media envoys with movie cameras, plus other picture- takers, are as numerous as mosquitoes buzzing over a stagnant pond -- except that the photographers are doing their job, are disciplined, and do not harm anyone. On the contrary they do a most useful job.
By far their largest concentration is around the famous red-carpeted steps which lead up to the Salle Lumiere. These, along with the trademark Golden Palm, make up the Festival's animated film-logo. For many Fest-guests, the steps are a "Stairway to Heaven," to quote that wonderful British feature made in 1948 by the team of Powell and Pressburger.
The steps are linked to the street by a long, wide red carpet onto which limousines disgorge the celebrities, past, current, or future, along with their dates, companions or mini-retinues. From an assigned space, the obligatorily tuxedoed photographers fire away in constant volleys.
The male celebrities are in formal suits, though sometimes wear weird variants thereof. Their haircuts range from acceptable to "hey, mom, look at the funny guy!"
The female celebrities constitute a fashion show which often includes curious outfits or failures of "haute couture." The stress is mostly on sexy dresses, transparent materials, shapes and cuts focuing on provocatively deployed breasts and legs.
The professionals' cameras give the public a much better look at stars than what the fenced-out, jostling crowds of bystanders get, whether using their eyes, their point-and-shoot cameras, or long telephoto lenses that few know how to use effectively.
During the slow march toward the steps-- but not in their slow, honor-guard-flanked ascent--the rich, the famous, the unknowns, the wannabes, get microphones thrust at them. It is a game of dumb, banal questions and platitudinous answers. It is as at the Oscars, except that their duration per interviewee is longer.
The entire process is also a sort of beauty pageant, not necessarily flattering. For example, the looks of two famous American actresses, respectively 38 and 44, turned out to be OK but by demanding standards, the ladies were merely "ex-gorgeous." One of them giggled while confessing to the microphones that she brought six or seven suitcases to Cannes. A sign of insecurity? A feeling of being challenged by French fashion?
Another well-known American she-thespian, 45, is on the outright homely side. No, I will give no names. But Mr.Polanski's wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner, 36, was truly beautiful as well as most tastefully chic.
Re: the male stars. Men and women of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your illusions. Very few masculine heart-throbs are handsome or, if this matters to you, look or sound brainy. There are minor exceptions. .A lady I know back home asks me each year if I saw Harrison Ford at Cannes, or photographed him. Now that's good taste! (If Mr. Ford was at Cannes 2002, I missed him.)
Pablo Trapero's EL BONAERENSE (Argentina) (UCR). Thirty-something Zapa (or Z) is a locksmith in a remote rural village of Argentina. (Film goof ? The place could not possibly have enough locks to keep anyone busy, even part-time.) His shady boss occasionally gets him extra, illegal jobs. The latest of those could mean jail for Z, but his uncle, the village's retired (and obviously corrupt) chief of police saves the day, even procures for Z a job in the, as I understand it, infamous "Bonaerense" police of Buenos Aires. The man gets some training, is initially shocked by what he sees (corruption, etc.,) has an affair with a single mother policewoman, eventually joins the mores, ways and means of his comrades. An solid, interesting, eye-opening, realistic film, well played by all. It was vividly shot on location in grungy areas of a Buenos Aires that visitors probably never see.
DOUBLE VISION (Taiwan) (UCR) by Chen Kuo-Fu is also a cop story, but one combined with unrealistic sci-fi horror stuff. A Taipei detective with problems is forced by the police department to accept the help of a hotshot FBI agent imported from the States. Lots of wandering movie subplots upon subplots, the major one being about supernatural junk. It gets so bad, so dumb, that after 30 or more minutes I quit it. Aki Kaurismaki does an impressive job with the almost minimalist THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (Finland) (OC) A middle-aged man (Markku Peltola) arrives by train in a town, is attacked by street goons who bang his cranium, rob him and leave him for dead. Cut to the victim, hospitalized, barely alive, and expected to flatline any moment now. Yet he miraculously recovers while alone, and walks away. He has total amnesia.
He encounters poor (and unpretentiously kind) denizens from the wrong side of the tracks. They are nice to him. He joins their "modus vivendi," is helped by the Salvation Army, falls for a no longer young she-worker in uniform (Kati Outinen), gradually rebuilds his life and personality
A must-see movie, strange, warm, humorous, very well performed, and with unexpected but credible developments.
Iranian cinema, is, at his best, very "hot" in Europe but minimally known in the U.S.A. Too bad. Bahman Ghobadi's first feature "A Time for Drunken Horses" (2000) had won several awards, in Cannes, Chicago, Gijon, and elsewhere. THE SONGS OF MY HOMELAND (OC) once more deals with Iranian Kurds. They inhabit the line between the Kurds of Iran and those of Iraq. The 8-year war between those two countries is over, but ethnic-cleansing Saddam Hussein keeps bombing from the air "his" Kurdistan. The loose plot-line of this peripatetic, endearing, funny/sad movie has three Iranians musicians looking for the oldest one's wife, a great singer who had left him long, long ago. This picaresque trip covers many episodes and encounters, has a comforting, often musical "joie de vivre" about it, and well shot realistic exoticism. Another winner for director Ghobadi.
Cut to a different Muslim land, Algeria. RACHIDA (Algeria-France) (UCR) written, directed and edited by Yamina Bachir. It is her first picture, and a most promising one. As the interminable, savage civil war continues in Algeria, young, spunky schoolteacher Rachida says no to the request (it is more like an order) of terrorists (fundamentalists? killer outlaws? plain thugs? I can't tell) to place a bomb in her school. In return she is shot and left for dead. But she slowly recovers, and with her mother seeks safety outside Algiers, in a village.
This, however, is relative safety. Killers are not far, and to add insult to injury, the discreetly "modern" Rachida meets with sex discrimination, is disapproved by both men and women. Her struggle is on two fronts. There are minor rough spots in the movie, but the viewers at the press screening obviously and rightly did not care. They gave this film and its makers one of the Festival's most vivid standing ovations even before the lights came up.
LONG WAY HOME (U.S.A) (UCR) is also a first feature, sweet and short (just under 90 minutes,) by New Yorker and N.Y.U. graduate Peter Sollett. Not much plot here, but a realistic view of a bunch of New York's Lower East Side Latinos, almost all teens, most of them in the throes of sex, from the awakening sort to the somewhat experienced sort. Not much action either, but that is compensated by the sociology, psychology, awareness of sexual status and behavior--all in lower case--of the boys and the girls.
More boys and girls in the competing SWEET SIXTEEN (UK) (OC) by that excellent working-class observer and chronicler Ken Loach. A fine movie in the documentary-ish Loach mode, it has as its focus Glasgow adolescents. Their accents do pose a problem, even for some British audiences. Years ago I had seen at Cannes a Loach picture whose almost impenetrable dialogue made it a semi-mystery. By coincidence I saw it again in the U.S.A., this time with most helpful English subtitles. The following year, at my favorite film Festival (at La Rochelle, France) while having dinner with Mr.Loach, I broached that aspect.
"Never again" said forcefully the usually low-key director. That subtitled movie, said he, had tanked in America. I argued that the real cause was that the mass of the American public was weaned on Hollywood action, un-realism and "Entertainment then, entertainment now, entertainment forever!" to paraphrase a sad, racist slogan.
There's no doubt that the increasing Cockney, regional, etc., speech of U.K. movies baffles most Americans and does indeed necessitate subtitles. Perhaps now, with new electronic/digital techniques --which also permit not just one by two sets of subtitles--England will awake to the problem.
TOMORROW LA SCALA! (UK) (UCR) by Francesca Joseph. A delightful, beautifully staged and performed BBC production, a comedy about a small opera troupe going to a maximum-security prison for five weeks or so, to mount Steven Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" with the help, collaboration and inclusion of some inmates. One does not and should not explain humor. One can only wish that the world were full of it. It would contribute hugely to the quality of life, to civilizing our still-barbarous planet, to curtailing violence, crime, wars, abuses by greedy corporations, academic pedantry, stupid politics, and a host of other ills.
"Sidebars" (in movie jargon) means film series totally independent of the main Festival. Notably, the Quinzaine des Realisateurs (the Directors' Fortnight) and the Semaine de la Critique (the Critics' Week.) organized by the Syndicate of French Film Critics. ("Syndicate" means "Association," but not "Mafia" or "Syndicated Columns.")
Both groups have their screenings outside the huge Palais, the Festival's imposing venue. Each group uses a single theater. The Quinzaine's is at a small distance from the Palais, in the bowels of the Noga Hilton Hotel. (Warning: a longish descent on shiny/slippery steps can cause falls, if not permanent disassociation with life as we know it..) The Critics' Weeks is at the Miramar theater, three blocks beyond the Noga. (Warning: do not confuse Miramar with Miramax.)
One wishes that those two independent venues, while not too distant, were very close to the Palais, where so much happens. Shuttling back and forth -- on foot of course, since walking moves faster than taxis and is infinitely cheaper-- is time-consuming and makes you miss Palais activities.
To date, I have seen only three sidebar movies, all first features that I will not name or discuss. Though rather interesting, they were of the sort that will, at best, see the light of day-- i.e. the dark of theaters-- only at small festivals.
Just about all who have not been to Cannes think of it as marvel of great movies and especially, in that order "Meeting FAMOUS ACTORS, "Seeing them," "Catching a glimpse of them," and so on. Next is "Going to great parties," followed by nudge-nudge suggestions of bacchanalia. Then come a few questions about "great movies," although hardly any inquiring souls pay attention to your descriptions of those films. They just want titles, and then forget them right away.
A small number of mostly younger people, often students of cinema, may be curious about the typical day of film critics. Depending on the inquirer's attention span, the short answer is "exhausting." The medium answer is "most tiring but not tiresome."
The long reply is, briefly, this. You get up early, bleary-eyed after too few hours of sleep. You drink all the coffee that's fit to drink. You rush to the morning's Press projection, hoping to make it by 8 a.m. The movies start at 8:30 but you want to get to the very large auditorium (the Salle Lumiere) early, to find a decent seat.
Although you are groggy you read newspapers, programs, reviews and other documents while waiting for the lights to go down. When the movie is over, unlike the "normal" public which--especially in the U.S.A--leaves the theatre while end-credits roll, several critics do remain in their seats.
Following this séance, you might attend a press conference or skip it for another projection. This becomes the main pattern for the rest of the day. It is often continuous. You skip lunch or have a sandwich. There's also, hidden within the Palais bowels, a cafeteria open to all, frequented by the Fest's personnel, its many policemen and police women, and the tiny number of press people who are aware of the cafeteria's existence, know how to find the place, and deign visiting it. I say "deign" because the place is bare-bones simple, the food is cheap and very fast but not exactly gourmet cuisine.
(Speaking of sandwiches, between projections and meetings, you must also find time to sandwich in periods of writing texts, and e-mailing or phoning them to your newspaper, magazine, radio or TV station.)
Later, you may try to get a real meal. This can be made easier when you know or suspect that the movies during those hours are not of major importance. Or else, that certain films which are not "musts" will open in your town soon after the end of the Festival. It's a constant process/contest of priorities.
Back in 1958, in "Gigi," a picture which would be most politically incorrect nowadays, Maurice Chevalier sang "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." When you are tired and hungry in Cannes you might feel like singing "Thank Heaven for Minor Films."
There are no free periods. You have to create them if you want to sit down with old friends for talk, more espresso or something stronger. Then again, you may rush to yet another movie. If you make it back to your room by 1 a.m. you are lucky. Even at that hour you spend much time sorting masses of printed materials, taking notes, writing reports, plotting the strategy for the following day, and all that. Yes, Virginia, there is social life but at the cost of missing a great many films and related activities. Listen, Virginia: if you meet a Festivalgoer who tells you "I had great fun in Cannes," it means that this person, generally neither a reporter nor a dedicated cinephile, spent little or no time "doing" the movies. In their place, that happy camper socialized in bars, cafes, restaurants, receptions, parties, nightclubs, beaches, and the like.
Those who do not know Cannes often ask me about its string of very nice beaches, most of them owned and run by major hotels. My reply for this year is "what beaches?" During former Festivals, to go from my room to the Palais, I would generally walk on the sea side of the Croisette boulevard. In 2002, I moved to a new location. The walk no longer parallels the beaches.
On the Beach
No, not the title of that very good movie by Stanley Kramer about nuclear war and a motley group, in Australia, waiting for the end of the world. (Fred Astaire had one of his very rare "serious," dramatic, downbeat roles in it.) I mean the beach at Cannes, or for that matter in a huge number of French locations, where toplessness is common, and nudism (or naturism) is far from rare in certain stretches. Yes, you can see partial or even total nudity. In Europe this is no big deal. In the American media it is, and gets exaggerated treatment a la "naughty, naughty," if not outright "the decadents abroad." But at the same time you can almost hear the reporters or writers licking their chops.
The American Pavilion
Pavilions are relatively small structures on or close to the beaches. Now in its 14th year, the American Pavilion has a personnel and frequenters who seem to be mostly young American students. A number of film personalities come there for panel discussions. This year they included American D.A. Pennebaker, Canadians David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, et al. The Pavilion's godfather, regular "star speaker" moderator, and guardian angel has been the protean, ubiquitous critic Roger Ebert. He had to miss Cannes this time because during his end-of-April Festival of Overlooked films--held in Champaign-Urbana (Illinois)-- he slipped on a just-polished floor, was hurt and had to undergo surgery (minor, I hope) in Chicago. We missed him --but not to worry. He is OK.
It happened at the Pavilion (Dedicated to Roger Ebert)
I dropped in just a couple of times. Chatting briefly with an eager young man I mentioned Palestinian movies, notably the clever "Divine Intervention." "Yeah" said my interlocutor "there's also "Arafat." No doubt he was referring to the title "Ararat.."
It does not happen at the Pavilion (Dedicated to Milos and to Edwin)
Unless it has been well-hidden from me, I've never found an espresso machine there. Just "American coffee," instant or drip. Tsssk, tsssk. How can we maintain international relations without high-class, aromatic black beans?
That's a fact, not a joke. In many cases, meeting places are visited according to the quality of whatever liquid freebies they offer. Smoking appears to be somewhat down in France, but espresso coffee, especially for the many persons who have to remain awake and lucid, is in major demand. Case in point: the centrally located, hyperbolically called Press Club. There's always room there, since many people shun it because its coffee is an inferior, instant brew.
Beautiful people and other eye-pleasers.
There are many good-looking women in Cannes, from actresses to "ordinary" people. There are beautiful cats, dogs and police horses. There are attractive shops. There are seascapes and landscapes. However, my own beauty prize at Cannes 2002 goes to a new Aston Martin (the James Bond British automobile) with local plates. It made my heart stop time and again. Yes, I am in love.
THE SON (Belgium) (OC) by brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose "Rosetta" had won the Golden Palm at Cannes 1999. Here, Olivier (played by Olivier Gourmet) is a carpentry teacher in vocational education. He is a loner with a secret burden. After he reluctantly accepts in his class a 16-year old boy fresh out of prison, in developments I will not disclose, we learn what Olivier's mysterious sadness is. A solid, well-acted movie.
At the Film Market, the documentary MORO-NO-BRASIL (The Sound of Brazil) by Finland's Mika Kaurismaki, Aki's slightly older, also filmmaking brother. Music-loving Mika crisscrossed Brazil with camera, microphone, dictionary and clothes-that-don't-set-you-apart, in order to document the large variety of popular Brazilian music, its composers and performers, their bounce, and, as a by-product, the poverty in rural Brazil. A warm, feature-length anthology of interest.
Of medium interest by Festival standards is Djamshed Usmonov's second feature ANGEL ON THE RIGHT (a co-production of Tajikistan, France, Switzerland, Italy) (UCR) It is the fifth movie produced by the Italian Marco Muller, who was previously the assistant organizer or director of various Festivals. The story: After a long stay in Moscow, petty thug Hamro returns to his Tajik village where his mother is dying. He uses this sad event as a springboard to con several people (don't ask) but eventually gets his comeuppance.
Of major revulsion is the French IRREVERSIBLE (OC) by Gaspar Noé who was born in Argentina (1963) and eventually moved to France. There he made two shorts, "Carne" (1991) (it means horsemeat, or bad meat, and can be used as an insult) and "Sodomites" (1998). These were followed by the features "One Against All," (1998), about a horsemeat butcher, and "Irreversible" (2002). I have not seen his short movies, but their titles speak for themselves. Nor do I know anything about Noé's personality. But he's got be a case (or is a basket case?) of obsession with sex and violence.
[ Back in 1998 I wrote about his first feature: "One Against All" is by maverick Gaspar Noé. A man narrates his life, or non-life, a series of miserable experiences that bring out in him utter hatred of everything in this world. He rages at people, feelings, institutions. You name it, he loathes it. Told with no holds barred, the picture is savage, scatological, sexist, sometimes dull, and sometimes funny with such pitch-black humor that it makes "funny" an iffy epithet. Not likable yet grippingly powerful. Worth seeing."]
"Irreversible" is a three-parter shown from back to front. Ages ago, in a public debate someone asked Jean-Luc Godard : "Don't you believe that every film must have a beginning, a middle, and an end?" "Absolutely" replied Godard "but not necessarily in that order." A wonderful bit of humor, yet at the same time, a deep statement.
But here Noé goes way beyond this gag. Without getting into gruesome details, I can say that the episodes include the longest, most graphic, most atrocious rape --plus an incredibly sadistic beating of the victim-- imaginable. Elsewhere, in a gay club, we get another brutally graphic beating of a man's face with a large fire-extinguisher. I won't mention the fuzzy plot or a depressing party with several bizarre and "unfinished" characters, or any of the supplementary annoyances.
To my surprise, for many critics, this movie was an attempt at provocative, defiant "avant-garde" too sick to succeed. For a few other reviewers, including a trusted friend whose articles grace "Variety," this is brilliant, bravura filmmaking.
There were massive walkouts, yet many people, including mature "civilians" (i.e. non-press viewers, mostly local "bourgeois" with tickets) remained in their seats. I wonder why.
One reason reminds me of the old Greek joke about a man who had ordered, for his use, a shipment of cheese. But got soap instead, as he found out from the first bite. So he said to the product: "You foam and re-foam. But I paid for you and I'll eat you." Other reasons may include curiosity for what "artists" can do, no matter how repellent and stomach-turning For professional reasons I remained in my seat -- but I was glad I had been too busy for lunch or dinner on that day.
Talking of food (yes, again)
There is an unending series of evening parties thrown by film producers, countries with movies in competition, miscellaneous outfits. The invitations are at a premium. Fake invitees are common. This year, a champion gate-crasher who sees only a few movies but sneaks into party after party, was absent. I worry.
Along with a few hard-working friends, I usually skip most such affairs because they cut into film screenings or else diminish sleep which, under the best of circumstances , does not exceed five hours a night.
Still, some of us went to a reception/buffet-by-the beach given by a South European country. It was dismal. Jostling crowds, impossible lines by the self-service buffet, no seats or tables available and the ultimate insult: mediocre food.
We quit a.s.a.p., moved inland to a North European party. Fair eats and drinks, but a packed crowd was overflowing the place, that is, a large balcony that felt as though its floor might come crumbling down. With all the tables already taken, many guests had to crouch on their haunches while balancing precarious paper plates and watching out for showers of spilled drinks. Another country, with another, very big night reception by the beach, did nobly, with several cooks, drinks and ingredients flown in from the motherland. Still, only the very early birds found free tables. But the cuisine and wines were fine.
On a previous occasion, some of us skipped the Cannes Mayor's invitation to a lunch with-- as we remembered from last year-- nice table spreads in a colorful site. But getting there and back, plus a slow meal, plus a speech or two would have meant sacrificing one movie if not more. In the professional hierarchy, eyes must come before the stomach. Some movie critics are, in certain ways, like monks.
Aha!!! Faithful to its scheduling tricks, the Festival has saved the big guns for the end. If Roman Polanski's much anticipated THE PIANIST (Poland/France) (OC) does not get the Golden Palm, I will eatwell, not my hat, since I don't have one. Oysters perhaps, to which I am allergic.
THE PIANIST is pronounced "PEEanist" on U.S. television--but then Jay Leno, whom I like a lot, has been saying "nucular" for ages. This work deserves the top prize. Mind you, quite a few major critics would not agree with me. But I won't use precious space and time to enter into a duel with them.
The film's subject matter is of immense importance. The story is, in a nutshell, how a gifted Polish pianist escaped the Holocaust during World War II, in Warsaw. It is faithful to the Wladyslaw Szpilman autobiographical source book. The acting is terrific, starting with the American Adrien Brody (as Szpilman, the pianist) and on to everyone else from major supporting roles to small ones. The main parts are played by British performers, except for Thomas Kretschmann (the "Good German" officer) who was born in the now defunct German Democratic Republic, and from which, at age 18, he escaped to then West Germany.
All the characters look and feel genuine, mostly as Polish Jews or non-Jews, and down to the German soldiers. The story is gripping, the sets, from buildings to paraphernalia, look authentic. Photography, lighting, soundtrack, plus everything else are superior.
There are no cliches, no fake tugs at heartstrings, no playing up to the audience, no bravura pieces, no falsely noble or else movie-movie-courageous bits.
Roman Polanski, himself a Holocaust survivor, was 25 when he impressed all cinephiles with his imaginative short films. He went on to some 16 features --which is well under the Hollywood average--in the 40 years between 1962 and 2002. Several of those works are classics. CHIHWASEON (South Korea) (OC) by Kwon-Taek. This short title in Korean is "translated" into English as "Strokes of Fire" and in French as --hold on! -"Drunk with women and painting." Not paint fumes but the art itself. It is a free reconstruction of the life of a painter named "Ohwon" Jang Seung Up (1843-1897) based on the meager facts known about him. Visually gorgeous but I found its uninvolving. The vagaries of film criticism.
One thing all critics should acknowledge is that neither the movies they watch nor the reviewers' judgments are carved in stone. We have all made goofs in our careers. Depending on many conditions --possibly including your mood, health, level of fatigue, what you ate that day, plus many other subjective factors --including your politics, social consciousness, sex life, etc. --your impression of the film could be wrong, either way. Ideally you should re-screen many a movie much later and then compare your old and your new impressions. Yes, as time goes by, you, the critic and you, the individual, may have changed a lot. Still, in the best of cases, if your judgments are essentially the same, you rejoice. Or ought to rejoice.
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (U.S.A) a comedy by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, et al. Sandler? At Cannes? I'll wait until I return to the homeland.
The same for ABOUT SMITH (U.S.A) by Alexander Payne, with Jack Nicholson, not that I'm suspicious of the movie (I heard good things about it) but because of a conflict with other films that will not make it to the States.
This was yet another series of retrospectives. Why the name of "Selection 39"? Film historians know that the most legendary Academy Awards --and nominations-- is considered to have been in 1939. Selection 1939 and the 1939 Academy Awards
Hardcore film buffs may know which movies were nominated as Best Picture for the 1939 Oscars. They were: "Gone with the Wind," "Goodbye Mr.Chips,"" Love Affair,"" Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, ""Ninotchka, ""Stagecoach, ""The Wizard of Oz, "and "Wuthering Heights The winner was "Gone with the Wind." ." Please note that in those days there was no Foreign Language Film category.
Less known is the fact that the Cannes Festival's debut was to take place that same year. But World War II canceled this event. The Festival had to postpone its start to 1946.
However, the organizers of Cannes 2002 "discovered" seven of the movies that had already been scheduled for 1939: "The Wizard of Oz," "Goodbye Mr. Chips," "The Four Feathers," the French melodrama by Jacques Feyder "The Track (or the Law) of the North," "Union Pacific," the Danish "Boefje" (a thriller by Detelf Sierck who, in Hollywood, became Douglas Sirk,) and the Soviet "Lenin in October" by Mikhail Romm.
I have no clue as to who, why and where came up with the idea of showing those old films at this year's Cannes affair, and who had the cute and rather surreal notion of organizing an international Jury that would come up with awards for those oldies and goodies.
The belated prize for 1939 went (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) to "Union Pacific" by Cecil B. De Mille--a curious choice. This same Jury also paid tribute to two up-and-coming actresses: Judy Garland, then 17 or so ("The Wizard of Oz,") and Michele Morgan, now 82, ("The Track of the North.")
What a clever thing to do! But then, is anyone able to find time and see those pearls, on top of all else that's going on? Oddly, the answer is yes, for "the other" audiences.
The other audiences.
There are several kinds of passes. It's a complicated hierarchy. "Market" passes, or low priority ones may allow their holders to obtain, whether gratis or not, and if available, tickets for certain projections. The hardest to obtain are for the "official" movies. The easiest are for the Critics' Weeks and the Directors' Fortnight. Also for events such as "Selection 1939" and other sidebars. The bottom line of all this is that "civilians" who have a hard time getting to see the official films can watch many other retrospectives and the like, often movies that the professionals do not attend because they are busy with the main competition pictures and the other "official" films. All this means that the public-at-large, given time and persistence, is not a pariah at Cannes.
Results are in. The Awards ceremony, compared to the Oscars beatification, is mercifully short. Think of a VW Beetle compared to an eighteen-wheeler.
Blessedly, there is little music, there are no songs, no would-be "funny" hosts, no yukky dances, no Oscarized presentations. Invariably, we get are small glitches, but they are generally amusing.
This year does have a kind of spontaneous innovation: many winners, in Oscar fashion, have lengthened their thanks to collaborators, the Festival and its top organizers ("I'll scratch your back since you've scratched mine",) dad, mum, the spouse, the kids, the family dog, and "tutti quanti." However, most of those mini-speeches are well below Oscarian duration, though some that get delivered in certain languages (say, Korean,) do consume more time when translated .Even so, this talkativeness is still in an innocent stag and not yet a dangerous trend.
The Golden Palm: "The Pianist," by Roman Polanski
Grand Prize (really a consolation award): "The Man Without a Past," by Aki Kaurismaki
Best Actress: Kati Outinen in "The Man Without a Past"
Best Actor: Olivier Gourmet in "The Son," by the Dardenne brothers
Best Direction: Im Kwon-Taek for "Chihwaseon" AND Paul Thomas Anderson for "Punch-Drunk Love"
Best script: Paul Laverty for "Sweet Sixteen" by Ken Loach
The Jury Prize: "Divine Intervention" by Elia Suleiman
The Prize of the 55th Anniversary: Unanimously to "Bowling for Columbine" by Michael Moore. [see below]
The Golden Palm: "Eso Utan" (After the Rain) by Peter Meszaros (Hungary) (related to the great Hungarian filmmaker Marta Meszaros???)
The Jury Prize: "A Very Silent Film" by Manish Jha (India) AND "The Stone of Folly" by Jesse Rosensweet (Canada)
Camera d'Or (Best First Film)
The Camera d'Or: "Bord de Mer" by Julie Lopes -Curval.
The Camera d'Or Special Mention: "Japon," by Carlos Reygadas
First Prize, unanimously: "Um Sol Alaranjado" (Four Days) by Eduardo Valente (Brazil)
Second Prizes (Unanimous): "Only Mother has Blue Eyes" by Eric Forestier (France) AND "K-G I Nod Och Lust" )(K-G for Better or Worse) by Jens Jonson (Sweden)
Third Prize: "She'elot Shel Poe'El Met" (Questions of a dead worker) by Aya Somech (Israel)
The Prize of the 55th Anniversary "Bowling for Columbine" by Michael Moore.
This award is an invention, something totally fabricated in order to place Michael Moore in the company of winners. It pleased me that an unconventional, maverick American was honored. But Moore's acceptance speech was an unfunny attempt to thank people in atrocious debris of high-school French taken over 30 years ago. I have the feeling that the Michael Moore award was a just tribute to his total "oeuvre." At the same time I strongly disagree with those critics who interpreted the prize to Polanski as an indirect reward for lifetime achievement rather than specifically for "The Pianist." That's sheer nonsense. The most common objection by naysayers is that Polanski made a film in "classical style." What did they expect? The Holocaust in Post-Modern garb?
Aki Kaurismaki, the only male winner without a tie (more power to him!) made no speech, accepted his prize, said only "I thank the Jury" and left the stage pronto. But while he was stepping down from the podium, he paused for a second and as in a quick afterthought, he added: "And I thank myself." This model of unloquaciousness was rightly and roundly applauded as the shortest ever, most refreshing, most honest reaction by a winner. . Whether or not it was a result of "in vino veritas" I cannot tell.
Come to think of it
Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" was repeatedly mentioned in the press as "the first ever documentary in competition." But what about the 1956 documentary "Le Monde du Silence" ("The Silent World") directed and photographed by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle. It won the Palme d'Or. So?
So rich in events is Cannes that it boggles the mind. The priority for new films made it impossible to attend a host of movies, such as the goodie but oldies series shown in new, restored prints: "Goodbye Mr. Chips,"" Lenin in October,"" Pepe le Moko,""The Magic Box,"" Max et les Ferrailleurs,"" Il Posto"" La Signora senza Camelie,"" Le Cercle Rouge,"" L'Auberge Rouge,"" Kagemusha," and more.
Also missed in the Directors' Fortnight the Parisian "Polissons et Galipettes," a period document of Belle Epoque voyeurism. The title is untranslatable but approximately means "Libertines and Pirouettes." It is a 67-minute anthology of salvaged short footage dating from the very early 20th century, shot and shown in high-class bordellos. Rumor has it that one or two of the makers were future cinema greats. I gather that this collection is more amusing than sexy, and naïve rather than pornographic. Its makeshift title in English is "The Good Old Days."
Missed too is the Festival's closing movie (as always, not in competition). It is "And Now, Ladies and Gentlemen," by Claude Lelouch. A French production, it stars Jeremy Irons as a big-time jewel thief who falls in love with lounge singer Patricia Kaas, who is a newbie, French and unknown to most of us. By the time the yearly curtain-closer is screened, very few critics are still around. I heard some few things about this movie, but, either way, I don't trust opinions about Mr. Lelouch, whether those of the person in the street or the judgments of specialists. He skyrocketed to fame with "A Man and a Woman" (1966) (Palme d'Or at Cannes; Oscar for Best Foreign Film.) He has, notably in France, a faithful public for his romantic movies, but critics tend to sneer at them as sugary concoctions.
Afterthought: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."
Those words, as the story goes, were uttered by in the 19th century by a British theatre thespian on his deathbed, surrounded by grieving friends and relatives. "Do not be sad for me. Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Apocryphal or true, never truer words were spoken. Yet, when one peruses the lists of winners at Cannes (among other festivals) only a mere handful of excellent comedies won major awards. A generous list, excluding performers who received prizes, would include "All About Eve" (by Joe Mankiewicz, 1951 Special Jury Prize); "My Uncle" (by Tati, 1958 Special Jury Prize); "The Knack" (by Richard Lester, 1965 Palme d'Or); "M.A.S.H."(by Robert Altman, 1970 Palme d'Or); "Taking Off" (by Milos Forman, 1971 Special Jury Prize); "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" (by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, 1983 Special Jury Prize); "Barton Fink "(by Joel & than Coen, 1991 Palme d'Or).; "Songs from the Second Floor" (2000, by Roy Andersson, Special Jury Prize.)
In my approximate categorizations, this list breaks down into about five social satires (the Mankiewicz, the Forman, the Lester, in part the Tati, the Coen brothers); two absurdist items (the Monty Python, the Andersson); one out and out comedy (the Altman.) That's eight major winners, of which three (one British and two American) --or four, if you place the Tati along the Altman) --received the topmost accolade, The Palme d'Or, within a total of 55 Festivals.
Draw your own conclusions. But before you do this, reflect on the fact that in the same span of time, in the Oscars, about the same number of comedies were awarded the Best Film prize. A detailed analysis--which I am not about to work on--of major festivals, will most probably reinforce this "theory" of laughter not being taken as seriously as it should be.
The 55th Festival, which took place in start-to-finish fine weather, was very good. For working journalists, fatigue is a given. But this year's tiredness skirted full-fledged exhaustion thanks to unadvertised improvements in organization. The personnel were efficient, helpful, even friendly. Relations with the press were good, the screenings went smoothly, the facilities (communications, computers, e-mail. etc.) have been expanded. All this thanks to the Czarina of the Press Services, Ms. Christine Aimé.
For making life much easier, once again I am grateful to the elegant, ever helpful Mr. Serge Di Tomasso, the "patron" (boss) of personnel at the Bazin and the Bunuel Auditoriums, venues crucial to critics.
My friend Serge runs a very efficient as well as friendly team, his "equipe." He is also a man of excellent taste. In spite of his demanding job at Cannes, he miraculously manages to see watch a large number of films. (He probably does what critics do: sleep minimally!) His reaction to those movies has helped me a great deal to decide what I can see. Mille mercis, mon ami.